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Top 10 Buildings of the Modern Era

Architecture for a New Age


Every era has its giants, but when the world moved into the 20th century, architecture reached new heights. From soaring skyscrapers to dramatic innovations in engineering and design, the modern era transformed the way we think about building. The The Phaidon Atlas of 20th-Century World Architecture (2012) presents an array of important structures, but our own About.com readers have chosen these buildings to be some of the most revolutionary constructions of the past century. What do you think? Tell us!

1. 1905 to 1910 : Casa Mila Barcelona

Casa Milà Barcelona, or La Pedrera, by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain
Photo © Dainis Derics/iStockPhoto.com
Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi defied rigid geometry when he designed Casa Mila Barcelona. Casa Mila Barcelona is an apartment building with a fanciful aura. Wavy walls seem to undulate and a comical array of chimney stacks dance across the roof. "The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God," Gaudi asserted.

2. 1913 : Grand Central, New York

Grand Central Terminal
Photo Copyright © Matt Rosenberg
Designed by architects Reed and Stem of St. Louis and Warren and Wetmore of New York city, the $43 million dollar Grand Central terminal building in New York City features lavish marble work and a domed ceiling with 2,500 twinkling stars.

3. 1930 : The Chrysler Building, New York

The Art Deco Chrysler Building
Photo © Thomas Northcut / Getty Images
Architect William Van Alen lavished the 77-story Chrysler Building with automotive ornaments and classic art deco zigzags. Soaring 319 meters / 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was the tallest building in the world... for a few months.

4. 1931 : Empire State Building, New York

Empire State Building
Photo ©iStockPhoto.com/Pierre Janssen
When it was built, the Empire State Building in New York City broke world records for building height. Reaching a height of 381 meters / 1,250 feet, it rose above the Chrysler Building. Even today, the Empire State Building is nothing to sneeze at, ranking within the top 10 for building height. The designers were architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon.

5. 1935 : Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, USA

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo by Flickr Member "Wmcclure333"
Frank Lloyd Wright fooled gravity when he designed Fallingwater. What seems to be a loose pile of concrete slabs threatens to topple from its cliff. The house is not really precarious, but visitors are still awed by the improbable structure.

6. 1936 - 1939 : Johnson Wax Building, Wisconsin, USA

Johnson Wax Building by Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo (cc) Flickr Member Chris and/or Kevin
Frank Lloyd Wright redefined space with the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin. Inside the Johnson Wax Building, opaque layers of glass tubes admit light and create the illusion of openness. "Interior space comes free," Wright said of his masterpiece. Wright also designed the original furniture for the building. Some chairs had only three legs, and would tip over if a forgetful secretary did not sit with correct posture.

7. 1946 - 1950 : Farnsworth House, Illinois

The Farnsworth House
Photo © Steve Estes
Hovering in a green landscape, the Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is often celebrated as his most perfect expression of the International Style. All the exterior walls are glass.

8. 1957 - 1973 : Sydney Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House
Photo by David Messent, courtesy Jorn Utzon/Utzon Architects
Jorn Utzon broke the rules with his modern expressionist Sidney Opera House in Australia. Overlooking the harbor, the Opera House is a freestanding sculpture of spherical roofs and curved shapes. A scandalous political affair forced architect John Utzon to withdraw from the project in 1966. The Opera house was completed by other designers under the direction of Peter Hall.

9. 1958 : The Seagram Building, New York

The Seagram Building in New York City
Photo © Jackie Craven
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson rejected "bourgeois" ornamentation when they designed the Seagram Building in New York City. A shimmering tower of glass and bronze, the Seagram Building is both classical and stark. Metallic beams emphasize the height of the 38-story skyscraper, while a base of granite pillars leads to horizontal bands of bronze plating and bronze-tinted glass.

10. 1970 - 1977 : World Trade Center Twin Towers (Demolished by terrorist attacks)

The World Trade Center in New York City Before the Terrorist Attack
Photo © Markus Seidel/iStockPhoto

Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, New York's World Trade consisted of two 110-story buildings (known as the "Twin Towers") and five smaller buildings. Soaring above the New York skyline, the Twin Towers were among the tallest buildings in the world. When the buildings were completed in 1977, their design was often criticized. But the Twin Towers soon became a part of America's cultural heritage, and a background for many popular movies. The buildings were destroyed in the 2001 terrorist attacks.


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